Fantasy News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: 5 players who have elevated to elite status in 2023

2RT42N6 Jacksonville Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. (1) slips past Indianapolis Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard on his way to a touchdown run during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • T.J. Hockenson is the TE1: The Minnesota Vikings star is the highest-scoring tight end in fantasy football this season, doubling down on a strong 2022 season.
  • Justin Herbert is back to his best: After a QB11 scoring season in 2022, Herbert is now a top-five fantasy quarterback again in 2023.
  • Is CeeDee Lamb strapped on a rocket for the moon?: The Dallas Cowboys wide receiver has cemented himself among the game’s elite in 2023, just how good can he be?
 Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling is no easy feat. Not every player has the stomach or talent to become an elite player at their position, but the ones who do smash through the glass ceiling. Their performances translate to fantasy football too, and becoming a consistently elite performer in the fantasy landscape is even harder. 

However, five players might have just solidified their case to be included among the elite at their position in 2023 and beyond. Who might they be?

WR:CB Matchup Chart

RB Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars

Travis Etienne was a hot commodity ahead of the 2022 NFL season. The Jaguars running back missed his rookie season due to a Lisfranc injury in 2021 and was expected to be a major contributor last year. Etienne eventually finished as the RB17 in PPR scoring, rushing for 1125 yards and five touchdowns at an efficient 5.11-yard clip and averaging 12.1 fantasy points per game.

It was a solid first season in the NFL but not quite what everyone had in mind. Etienne wasn’t the feature that many thought he would be in the passing game, catching just 35 passes for 316 yards without a touchdown, and when the Jaguars drafted Tank Bigsby in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft, there was concern that Etienne would succumb to a loss in workload. 

We got that one wrong. Etienne hasn’t been as efficient in 2023, averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, but he’s scored seven rushing touchdowns and is on course for another 1,000 rushing season. Overall, Etienne is the RB3 in scoring. He’s had at least six games with over 18 rushing attempts and over 20 touches a game — the third-most in the NFL, behind only Josh Jacobs and Christian McCaffrey. That’s elite company.

Etienne's activity in the passing game has pushed him over the edge. Through 10 games, Etienne has just three fewer catches than he did in the entire 2022 season. He’s becoming a true bell-cow back and is cementing himself as an elite fantasy performer.

WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions 

Is this cheating? Amon-Ra St. Brown was excellent in 2022, catching 106 passes for 1,161 receiving yards and six touchdowns en route to a WR7 finish in PPR while averaging 16.7 fantasy points per game. Based on that, it’s hard to say that St. Brown wasn’t an elite performer heading into 2023.

However, hear me out here. There was reasonable doubt around St. Brown. His role as a slot-only receiver made a continued push for elite usage difficult to predict, especially as the Lions looked poised to become a more run-first offense after signing David Montgomery in free agency and drafting Jahmyr Gibbs in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

Gibbs's role in the offense, as well as the hopeful growth of Jameson Williams as an outside threat, meant that St. Brown could realistically lose out on targets, and even the targets he received wouldn’t be all that explosive. Wrong again. St. Brown has elevated himself to be one of the most consistent receivers in the league. He’s pristine, he’s quarterback-proof, and he’s on track to potentially be a top-three fantasy receiver in 2023. 

St. Brown is earning the second-most targets per game in the NFL this season with 10.9 per game and has either a touchdown or 100 yards receiving (or both) in all nine games he’s featured in this season. That’s equated to an average of 21.2 fantasy points per game in 2023 – the sixth-most in the NFL. Oh yeah, and he’s missed a game this season too.

TE T.J. Hockenson, Minnesota Vikings 

The tight end position hasn’t featured a ton of elite fantasy performers in recent seasons. It’s really been Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews with a side order of George Kittle. Aside from those three, it’s a wasteland. Except, T.J. Hockenson has been bordering along the line of joining the elite club the last two seasons. He was the TE2 in scoring last season thanks to an excellent stretch of games after being traded to the Minnesota Vikings before the trade deadline.

Hockenson was a target machine alongside Justin Jefferson, which is a tall task because the Vikings' offense often feels heliocentric to Jefferson, who is arguably the best receiver in the NFL. However, Hockenson’s gravitational pull has followed him into the 2023 season. Through 10 games, Hockenson is the TE1 in scoring. He’s the eighth-most targeted player in the NFL and is averaging 16 fantasy points per game — predictably, only Travis Kelce is averaging more points (17.6). The next closest tight end is Mark Andrews averaging 13.4 points per game.

It’s a tough club to break into, but Hockenson has eight top-10 scoring weeks this season. Even more impressively, he has five top-five scoring weeks. That’s the same as Kelce. Even if Hockenson doesn’t finish as the TE1 this season, he’s comfortably slotting into the role of an elite fantasy football tight end in 2023.

QB Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers 

Have the Los Angeles Chargers been a disaster this season? Well, they’re 4-6 and staring down the barrel of a season that can get away from them fast, but it’s not due to Justin Herbert‘s performances. Herbert was the QB2 in scoring back in 2021, but a down year in terms of fantasy scoring in 2022 meant he finished as the QB11. 

A quarterback of Herbert’s talent finishing outside of the top-10 in scoring was a little alarming, but his lack of dual-threat ability and decrease in touchdown passes accounted for that drop. However, Herbert is back to behaving like an elite fantasy quarterback in 2023. He’s the QB2 in total scoring and averaging 20.9 fantasy points per game — only Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts average more points per game. 

Herbert looks on track to smash 30 passing touchdowns this season after tossing just 25 last season. His 5.3% touchdown rate is the second-highest of his career too. Even if his passing yards per game is a career-low, Herbert is making up for it by adding what eluded him last season: a little more scrambling. He’s averaging a career-high 18.6 rushing yards per game, which doesn’t seem like much, but that’s led to three rushing touchdowns. He even had 73 rushing yards on eight attempts against the Packers in Week 11.

It’s a small gain, along with the bump in touchdown numbers and his overall play, it’s enough to push Herbert back into elite territory as a fantasy quarterback. Hopefully, he stays there this time.

WR CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys

CeeDee Lamb’s recent tear has been nothing short of historic. Sure, he cooled off a little bit against the Carolina Panthers, scoring 16.50 fantasy points, which for him, is an off day, but Lamb has truly become one of the game's elite receivers on the field and in the fantasy box score.

On the season, Lamb is the WR3, averaging 21.8 fantasy points per game. Even more incredibly, over the last five games, Lamb is averaging a mind-boggling 28.56 fantasy points per game and has 47 catches, 655 receiving yards and five total touchdowns. It’s video game numbers for the former first-round pick. Maybe it’s cheating a little, because Lamb was the WR5 in scoring last season, but he was barely a top-20 fantasy receiver in the two seasons prior. Since Amari Cooper left the Cowboys, Lamb has been the guy in Dallas. He’s been playing as an outside receiver more over the last few weeks too, showing that he can do more than just a regular slot receiver.

And now, after a great season in 2022, Lamb has followed it up with, potentially, an even better season in 2023. He’s on track for career-highs in catches and yards and could flirt with a double-digit touchdown season too if he plays his cards right.


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